Greatest Films of the 1990s
Greatest Films of the 1990s

Greatest Films of the 1990s
1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Bound (1996), 108 minutes, D: Andy and Larry Wachowski

Breaking the Waves (1996, Den./Swed./Neth./Fr./Norway), 159 minutes, D: Lars von Trier

Crash (1996), 98 minutes, D: David Cronenberg

The English Patient (1996), 162 minutes, D: Anthony Minghella

Fargo (1996), 97 minutes, D: Joel Coen
An offbeat, clever, kidnap whodunit-caper and black comedy, a tale of greed and crime, involving a financially-stricken Midwestern car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) who ineptly schemes to kidnap his own wife Jean (Kristin Rudrid). When his hired henchmen Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) botch the kidnapping, their murderous plan is persistently investigated by Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the pregnant police chief of Brainerd, Minnesota.

Independence Day (1996), 135 minutes, D: Roland Emmerich
In this jingoistic disaster film, a major hit that grossed more than $817 million (worldwide), mysterious alien invaders threatened to destroy Earth's major cities. Plans to protect and defend the US are set in motion by hotshot pilot Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), computer hacker/technician David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), and the President of the US Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) - on, of course, July 4th, Independence Day. A sequel is due in 2016.

Jerry Maguire (1996), 138 minutes, D: Cameron Crowe

Lone Star (1996), 130 minutes, D: John Sayles

Mission: Impossible (1996), 110 minutes, D: Brian De Palma
See Mission: Impossible series.

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), 129 minutes, D: Milos Forman
This biographical drama was about the outspoken, unlikely First-Amendment free-speech advocate and publisher of X-rated Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson). It began with a short prologue set in the early 1950s in Kentucky, where young Flynt (Cody Block) was engaged in moonshining. Then, the film jumped ahead 20 years, finding Flynt and his younger brother Jimmy (Brett Harrelson) running a strip club in Cincinnati. In 1974, Flynt created the sleazy porno Hustler magazine (originally the strip club's illustrated newsletter beginning in 1972), and met his future wife Althea Leasure (pop singer Courtney Love), one of his underage, bisexual erotic dancers known as "Calamity Jane." One of his biggest coups was in 1975 - the publication of paparrazi photographs taken of a naked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, leading to the sale of 2 million copies of Hustler, and causing crusades against him led by Charles Keating (James Cromwell), the head of Citizens for Decent Literature. The unorthodox businessman Flynt was faced with anti-pornography and obscenity lawsuits, and was briefly put in prison in the mid-1970s for smut-peddling. Flynt married Althea in 1976 - a notorious open marriage that allowed for promiscuity, and she co-published Hustler with him (she served as its first life-sized centerfold). In 1977, Flynt was temporarily converted to Christianity by Ruth Carter Stapleton (Donna Hanover), sister of President Carter. In 1978 while he was in Georgia, he and his lawyer Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton) were shot by an unknown sniper. Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down, and wheelchair-bound forever. Upon moving to Bel-Air, California with his wife, the couple became drug-addicted to his pain-killers and morphine. Rejuvenated by 1983 after innovative surgery that removed his pain (and his addiction), Flynt was again facing more legal battles - charges of leaking FBI surveillance videos related to the John DeLorean entrapment case, and he served six months for contempt of court. Also, he was back in court in 1983, sued for $40 million for an infamous commercial ad parody that satirized fundamentalist preacher Rev. Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul), the 'moral majority' leader, performing unnatural sex acts with his mother in an outhouse. Eventually, Althea fell victim to AIDS (diagnosed in 1983) and died in 1987 after years of sexual promiscuity. During some of his courtroom trials, Flynt mocked the judicial process with colorful, theatrical, outrageous contempt-of-court antics - he disrespectfully wore an American flag-diaper and a safari helmet, and T-shirts with curse words, and was ultimately charged with desecrating the flag. At one point, Flynt was sent to a psychiatric ward where he was diagnosed as bipolar. Regarding the 1984 defamation case with Falwell, Flynt countersued the preacher for copyright infringement. Flynt was found guilty of inflicting 'emotional distress' - but not libel. Flynt pursued an appeal of the Falwell decision to the US Supreme Court - his beleaguered lawyer Isaacman at first refused before accepting. The case, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, was brought to the high court in 1987 and successfully argued. The court's verdict overturned the original verdict in a unanimous decision that protected the right of free speech.

The Pillow Book (1996 Fr./UK/Netherlands), 126 minutes, D: Peter Greenaway

Primal Fear (1996), 129 minutes, D: Gregory Hoblit
In this dramatic mystery legal-thriller, ambitious, slick high-profile Chicago defense lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) was hired (pro bono) to defend stuttering Kentucky altar boy Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton in his film debut) who was accused of viciously murdering Chicago's Archbishop Richard Rushman (Stanley Anderson) in his residence. Stampler was originally a homeless street kid that was taken in by the priest. The Archbishop was later revealed to be involved in sexual abuse and corruption of altar boys, including Stampler (a clear motive for revenge and murder). Early on, Vail witnessed how Stampler suffered from multiple personality disorder, confirmed by psychiatrist Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand). Stampler had two distinct personalities: a psychotic, violent, sociopathic, and dominant aggressive alter-ego named Roy, and a normal rational self named Aaron (who couldn't remember anything about Roy). It was a seemingly impossible case to win, since the evidence incriminated Stampler, and an insanity plea was not possible. The District Attorney was John Shaughnessy (John Mahoney), while the Assistant District Attorney prosecutor was Janet Venable (Laura Linney), Vail's ex-girlfriend, and the judge was Shoat (Alfre Woodard). During one intense cross-examination in the trial, violent 'Roy' erupted from Aaron's personality and attacked Venable. Eventually, Vail was able to clear his client with the Judge's ruling of mental insanity, and Stampler was ordered to a maximum security mental hospital. The shocking twist of the film was revealed after the trial's conclusion. As Aaron congratulated his lawyer in his cell, he apologized with a stutter for injuring Venable's neck ("Will you t-tell Miss Venable I'm sorry? Tell her I hope her neck is OK"). It suddenly dawned on Vail that Aaron was uncharacteristically remembering what Roy had done, rather than blacking out. Aaron had unwittingly revealed that he was only pretending to be insane and had actually premeditatively murdered the priest ("...cuttin' up that son of a bitch Rushman? That was just a f--kin' work of art!") and his own teenaged girlfriend Linda (Azalea Davila) ("That cunt just got what she deserved"), whom the Archbishop had molested. Also, he admitted that Roy was his real personality (and in charge) and that "there never was an Aaron either, counselor." As Vail left the cell and courtroom, disgraced, devastated and disgusted, he heard 'Roy's' closing words to him: "We did it, man. We f--kin' did it. We're a great team, you and me. You think I could've done this without you? You're just feelin' a little anger here because you started to care about old Aaron, I can understand that, but - you know, love hurts, Marty."

Scream (1996), 111 minutes, D: Wes Craven
Wes Craven's surprising, rejuvenating horror hit-spoof self-reflectively paid tribute to various stalker/slasher films, beginning with the character of a long-faced killer named Ghostface costumed for Halloween as a death-masked Grim Reaper. The elaborate and satirical, self-aware script (by Kevin Williamson) deliberately referenced numerous classic horror movies (with trivia, quotes, cliches, and "rules"). The surprising horror hit-spoof was a half-parody and half-tribute film (with nods to Hitchcock and other prominent horror films) that gave rise to three sequels (through 2011). It opened with a sudden, unexpected, murderous stalking and ultra-sadistic demise of a very familiar movie actress - Drew Barrymore as a hapless teen victim, after she failed to correctly answer a trivia question about Friday the 13th (1980). Craven's film noted the truth about most scary movies: "What's the point? They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting." But then, he deftly and effectively inserted the genre's common plot devices into the mayhem to further his own ends - to celebrate the slasher film. Notice cameos from Linda Blair (The Exorcist) and from Craven himself as janitor Fred (Krueger) - and two telling quotes about how real life can imitate art: "It's all one great big movie…only you can't pick your genre," and "Don't you blame the movies! Movies don't create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!" In the unmasking during the bloodbath Grand Guignol finale, the vengeful perpetrators (two movie-obsessed assailants) were discovered to be disgruntled teens finding retribution for adultery and the breakup of a family.

Secrets & Lies (1996, UK/Fr.), 142 minutes, D: Mike Leigh

Trainspotting (1996, UK), 90 minutes, D: Danny Boyle

Twister (1996), 117 minutes, D: Jan de Bont

Previous Page Next Page